Canada · review

Deadly Appearances by Gail Bowen

Deadly Appearances by Gail Bowen

McClelland & Stewart, 2000 (originally published in 1990)

Joanne Kilbourn book #1

Source: I borrowed it from the library

Just to get a break from all the Scandinavian stuff I’ve been reading lately, I picked up the first Joanne Kilbourn book, Deadly Appearances based on positive reviews of the series I’ve seen in a few places.  I’m always game to try series that are new to me..  The movie tie-in edition’s cover is not the typical crime fiction cover.

The book has an interesting set-up and an interesting protagonist.   Provincial opposition party leader Andy Boychuk is poisoned at a constituent picnic in front of 5,000 people in Saskatchewan.  Leading the informal investigation is his head speechwriter, Joanne Kilbourn, who’s murdered husband was a a political colleague of Andy’s.  Joanne is currently a speechwriter on leave from her position teaching English at university (Bowen is also an English professor).  There are a few literary touches throughout, notably a copy of William Blake’s “The Sick Rose,” found in place of Andy’s speech at the podium where he died.

The investigation leads Joanne into Andy’s messy private life, which she didn’t know that well at all while she worked for him.  Andy and his reluctant political wife Eve live in the country near their disabled teenage son (he was injured in a car crash) and also near Wolf Lake Bible College, which is led by the very charming Soren Eames.  Andy is also close to his very Ukranian mother, Roma, who also plays an important role in the book.

More interesting than the hidden details of Andy’s private life for me were the  varying portraits of political wives in this book.  Andy’s wife Eve basically retreated from the political fray, aspiring party leader Craig Davidson has a wife, Julie, who’s bent on getting her husband into Andy’s old position as party  leader, and, finally, Joanne herself dealt with the negotiations of rearranging her life around her husband’s political ambitions.  There are no easy answers, and none of the women seem entirely happy with their decision to support their political husbands.

The actual resolution of the central murder investigation was not the highlight of the book for me.  There’s a pretty lengthy stretch of the book that feels too woman-in-peril to me, and, furthermore, it wasn’t too difficult for me to figure out who the murderer was.  Nothwithstanding my quibble with the resolution of the book, I’m interested in reading more books in the series.  I assume that Bowen’s plotting abilities catch up with her character-writing abilities.  This is, after all, just the first book in the series of twelve.

Other reviews appear in PetronaMysteries and More in Saskatchewan, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.

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2 thoughts on “Deadly Appearances by Gail Bowen

  1. Rebecca – Thanks for the fine review, and thanks much for the mention 🙂 – I’m very glad you enjoyed this novel. I like the series very much and I agree that Joanne Kilbourn is a fascinating character. In fact, the characters have drawn me into this series and kept me there as much as anything else has really. And I hope you’ll continue to read other books in the series because in my opinion, the characters evolve nicely.

    1. You’re welcome, Margot. I didn’t mention what a quick read this was, and I think I’ll fly through this series pretty quickly. I’m glad to hear you like the rest of the books.

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